Verso Books, (2014)
ISBN: 9781781685853 (pb)
Reviewed by Jatinder Kang, University of Southampton
This book argues that whilst the average annual income of a British person is £23,000, a couple’s annual income of £160,000 labels them as the poorest amongst U.K’s richest 1% - two types of incomes reflecting two totally different types of lives. In income, the top 1% in the UK represents £110 billion. In this thought provoking and energetic book Danny Dorling helps us to imagine how easy it could be to make a difference to the lives of children who are denied an education, denied resources to get the best out of school, suffer food insecurity, if the 1% shared a little of their wealth. ‘Inequality and the 1%’ is extremely critical of this huge class inequality.
Dorling asserts that it is the richest 1%, that benefit from the UK’s class structure and it is UK’s richest 1% who are in favour of a class system. He argues that because this 1% population take so much money, that even when the rest of the 99% attempt to improve their financial status, there is thin hope. He argues that class inequality dominates how the UK’s population who are not in the 1% experience unemployment, money, education, the education system, health and even experiences with banks. His underlying argument is that 99% of the population suffer a class penalty and that the 1% live a luxury life at the expense of the 99%.
Dorling does three things to show this. He refers to a plethora of official sources that include statistics, diagrams, graphs and photographs. He criticises the decisions of British politicians argue that these promote class inequality. Comparing with other countries, he explores why the UK is a particular example of class inequality. One weakness in Dorling’s arguments is that he does not take into account the perspectives, experiences, choices, and journeys of UK’s richest 1%. This however, could be a result of little research being readily available.
In the first chapter, Dorling provides a detailed description of the key context i.e. the gap of income distribution between richest 1% and the remaining 99%. He explains why he concentrates exclusively on focusing on the effect of UK’s richest 1% on the rest of UK’s 99%. However, this it could be argued – overlooks the diverse range of incomes within the 99%. For instance, those who live in a household that brings an annual income of £19,000 experience life differently than those who live in a household with an annual income of £50,000.
The second chapter discusses why educational institutions are the underlying root of who is excluded from the 1% and who’s included. Dorling explains that children in the U.K do not get taught what they need to become good and useful citizens. He explains that schools now exist to fulfil objective criterias such as ensuring that Ofsted tick the right boxes and presenting evidence that they are aware of their students’ efforts and attainment levels each term. He argues that students’ academic attainment does not, or rarely determines what opportunities they will be exposed to - and suggests rather, that what is important is whether they attended Eton, Westminster and Oxford and Cambridge. He provides a list of major companies and charities that are mainly interested in recruiting the privately educated. He argues that children in the UK suffer a ‘poverty of aspiration’ because they are almost made to believe that their future is set up – by U.K’s richest 1%.
The third chapter focuses on employment. Dorling highlights that masses of people in the UK do two jobs just to be able to pay their rent. Dorling also asserts that unless your degree is from Oxford, Cambridge or a similar HE institution, the degree will not be enough to earn even an average salary. He also discusses why often those who are in the bottom 99% have little choice but to respect the positions of those who are richer than them, to keep the option of doing unskilled work open.
The fourth chapter ‘wealth’ could have been presented earlier, because it connects well with the aim of the first chapter. It suggests that the UK is most class conscious because, he argues, for every individual that is in the 1%, there are 700,000 people who have become poorer. Dorling uses the concept of ‘culture’ as part of explaining this i.e. gender roles and particularly gender defined occupations. He presents some of the reality of housing prices, arguing that there are people in the UK who consider it a huge success if they manage to buy a two bedroom flat on rent and the 1% refuse to consider this reality.
The fifth chapter focuses on health in relation to class inequality and the income gap. Dorling suggests that poor mental health, desperation, child poverty and suicide are alien to those in the 1%, yet it is because the size of their income that influences, if not causes it. He argues that the life expectancy gap is also surreal. The money to be able to afford adequate healthcare is unimaginable for most of the people in the 99%. Again, little empirical evidence is presented to support this.
The book suggests that unless the attitudes of British politicians, and private institutions’ change, those who strive to be at the top through hard-work will continue to experience class and income inequality. This book will energise those who are passionate about tackling class inequality. Some reference to social theorists would have made the book even more credible.